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Pumpkin: The Curious History of an American Icon (Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books) Hardcover – September 13, 2012

4.3 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"After smashing our illusions about the Pilgrims, Ott continues her pumpkin iconoclasm. . . . The pumpkin as symbol comes full circle."―Nina C. Ayoub, The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 2012

"Cindy Ott digs deeply and creatively in furrowing a few familiar and many elusive sources in this major contribution to American agricultural and sociocultural history."―Michael Kammen, The Journal of American History, Vol. 100(1) 2013

"If you’re interested in taking a deeper look into the rich history of pumpkins, you will enjoy Cindy Ott’s Pumpkin. . . It’s definitely worth a read. Next time you bake a homemade pumpkin pie, you can serve it with a slice of history as well."―Tori Avey, The History Kitchen, November 14 2013

"There is much treasure to be mined from this engaging work of nonfiction, so carve out some reading time, and enjoy a pumpkin-tastic narrative."―Jan Johnson, The Columbian, October 13 2013

"Her analysis certainly leads to a deeper consideration of this simple vegetable and how it is that Americans may still consider the country a farming nation, although the number of farmers had declined dramatically. . ."―Rae Katherine Eighmey, Minnesota History, Spring 2013

"Cindy Ott presents a fascinating study of America's darling squash. . . . Her thorough investigation of the renowned autumn icon takes a detailed look into American social and agricultural history."―Kelly Restuccia, OhRanger!, October 2012

"Ott reexamines American history through the lens of the pumpkin. It is an undertaking that is both intellectual and fun."―Garry Stephenson, Oregon Historical Quarterly


"From the symbolism of pumpkins in classical and medieval mythology, to locavores and harvest festivals, Ott's paean to pumpkins is important, entertaining, and enlightening."―Warren Belasco, author of Food, the Key Concepts

"An original, carefully researched, engagingly written, even playful and witty foray into the exploding field of food history by an up-and-coming star in the field. How appropriate that so delightful a vegetable has an equally delightful book to pay it tribute."―William Cronon, from the Foreword


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Product Details

  • Series: Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: University of Washington Press (September 12, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 029599195X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0295991955
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,393,646 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Normally, I enjoy books on the histories of our foodstuffs. This one, however, I didn't particularly enjoy. Much of the writing is pedantic, tedious and repetitive and I believe the author overstates her case, as almost every chapter reiterates her belief that the pumpkin symbolizes America's "lost" agrarian past and Thomas Jefferson's "nation of yeoman farmers" ideal. But, I must admit, that after I finished the book, I made a pumpkin pie. And for those that think of pumpkin pie as bland, use more cinnamon, ginger and cloves than what the recipes generally call for.

I also was disturbed when the author referred to the opossum as a rodent. Opossums are marsupials -- pouched mammals like kangaroos, not rodents -- which are placental mammals. Am not sure whether the author or the editor needs to bone up on their vertebrate zoology, but glaring errors like this make one wonder what other misconceptions may have crept into a book.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I guess this was about what I expected. The trouble is, it's a short book that is still twice as long as it needs to be. And half of the book is footnotes. It seemed to run over the same ground quite a bit (e.g.: stressing, through the years, the pumpkin's popular connection to America's agrarian past) and I found myself glazing over the most trivial parts of it. But it did leave me feeling like more of an expert on pumpkins in it's repetition. I'll never look at a pumpkin quite the same way. I'm not sorry I read it, just that it was rather overpriced for what it is.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An illustrated version of this review appears on my blog: [...]

I am not a big fan of pumpkin pie. The bland flavor and gummy texture is quite unappealing to me, and I just don’t get this whole pumpkin-flavored latte, ice cream, and yogurt craze.  But I am a huge fan of Cindy Ott’s new book, Pumpkin: The Curious History of An American Icon.  Before opening its pages, I had no burning desire to learn about the history of this native, oversized squash.  But once I began reading I could not put it down.  Over the last decade or so, I have been thinking, reading, and writing about the American history of a non-native fruit–the apple–carried to the Americas by European invaders.  While I’ve been pondering the impact of the apple on North America, its role in the expansion of the Euro-American societies who brought it here, and its adoption by indigenous peoples, Cindy Ott has been writing about the story of the native pumpkin, its use by these invaders, and how it ultimately emerged as a symbol prized more for its cultural than its economic value.

While Americans today distinguish the bright round orange pumpkin from other varieties of squash, the two are in fact genetically identical and can cross-pollinate.  For Native peoples of eastern North America, squash was one of the “three sisters,” along with corn and beans, which were the core of Native American agriculture.  The three food crops were complementary both ecologically and nutritionally.  Squash were easy to grow in abundance, and “could be preserved over the winter, when other food items were scarce.”  Europeans came to the Americas with a certain finickiness born of a sense of cultural superiority, and did not immediately embrace the pumpkin.
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Format: Kindle Edition
Although their shapes remain consistent, pumpkins today are reappearing in some of their heritage guises--deep orange, delicate green stripes, and shades of pale gold. They were lined up at Fresh Market's doorway yesterday demanding attention, announcing that fall was here, and looking well rounded, plump and enticing, but nothing like their five pound, fifty or one hundred pound ancestors. I didn't know quite what to make of them until Google brought up Cindy Ott's history of pumpkins. Ott has written an engaging and fascinating chronological account of the connections between people and pumpkins starting with the prehistoric era and continuing into the 21st century. She draws on an expansive range of primary sources--from 17th century art, letters, herbals, and travelers accounts to 18th century advertisements, agricultural journals, dictionaries, and merchants' accounts. She read fiction, poetry, cookbooks, scholarly books, and magazine articles. She viewed these bits of information through an anthropological lens that enabled her to weave the disconnected and fragmented material into an easily readable, cohesive illustration of the way cultural beliefs impinge on everyday life. She showed a deft touch in her illustrations of their changing symbolism.

Within the text, pumpkins appear first as a foodstuff and gradually emerge as potent symbols of American life. Initially they were the basis of poor men's beer, made into bread, into sugared chips, puddings and pies, but also fed to pigs and cows as warm mash. Today, they touch most people's lives either in secular (jack-o-lanterns) or semi-religious rituals (Thanksgiving pie). A large, impersonal industry provides them for us, but originally people's relationships with the fruit were up front and personal.
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